Age is just number, right? Well, that’s at least what one driver in the ARCA Series says.
2013 marked the start of one young man’s journey to the top. Actually, that journey started years ago. Since he was a nine-year-old, Michael Lira has always been in the seat of a race car.
Lira currently races for Kimmel Racing – owned by fellow driver Will Kimmel. Working with Will and his father Bill Kimmel, the two have created one of the top teams in the ARCA Series. With Lira joining the organization late last year, Kimmel Racing has begun to see an added level of success.
“He definitely helps because he’s out there driving,” Lira said of his teammate. “I have been switching over to his radio channel – asking him a lot of questions because he is running really well. It has been huge to have him as a mentor – especially with the places that he has been too and knows already.”
Splitting time between the team’s flagship cars, the no. 68 and No. 69 Fords, Lira is going to be running 14 of the 20 events in the division this season. In addition to racing in the ARCA Series, he hasn’t forgotten about where he came from either.
Lira and his father have been able to raise the funding to race. With the ownership of Gary Yeoman’s Ford in Daytona Beach, Florida, the father-son combination has worked their way up through the stock car ranks. The family’s Ford dealership is one of the most successful in the country, and it is the number one seller of Roush Mustangs and Roush Performance Parts in the world. Due to the dealership’s success, the pair has also developed a relationship with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Jack Roush.
“My dad and I have a good alliance with Mr. Roush," Lira said. "Our dealership, Gary Yeoman’s Ford, is the number one seller of Roush Mustangs and Roush Performance Parts in the world. They are good friends. Jack has helped me here and there. We use all Roush-Yates stuff. I want to do as many races as I can possibly do. ARCA is my main focus, but I won’t be able to race Daytona, Talladega or Michigan I believe because I don’t turn 18 until July next year."
After running eight races so far in this season, Lira has three top-10 finishes. Kimmel, however, has four in just seven starts. With his experience, he has been able to help his 17-year-old driver at tracks he has never been to. But even while running for a team that is finding success, both drivers have had trouble attaining additional sponsorship – the bread and butter of achieving their goals on and off the race track.
Running on a part-time basis has helped him develop to the level of competition. When he isn’t racing in the ARCA Series, the Florida-native is racing Super and Pro Late Models with his family. But the best part about this year in his mind is that he is able to gain experience on a weekly basis.
“The biggest thing is that we are not running for points," he explained. "It is like a giant test session for me. Every time you come back to a track for a second time – a lot of these short tracks that I went to that I didn’t test at – I felt like I was a lot better at the end of the race than I was at the first lap. If we came back here (Pocono) next week, I feel like we’d be setting ourselves up for a really good run, so we have a good future here.
“For the short track races, we kind of just showed up on race day and tried to learn the track in the two short 45-minute practices. After the race – I feel a lot better about it. I feel like when we go back to these tracks in a year or two when we are back and I have been to all of these tracks, it is going to be huge for me when I’m in the car.”
As he prepares for 2015, Lira will be entered in nearly every event in the ARCA Series. Since he doesn’t turn 18 until next July, he is restricted from competing in the restrictor plate events, along with a few other races. With hopes of racing full-time sooner rather than later, the high school student is focused on just getting better with time.
Since the father-son tango has a relationship with Roush, they are hoping to piece together a development deal in the near future. Roush is a partner with Kimmel Racing, but they also worked closely with Roulo Brothers Racing in ARCA as well. Most of Roush’s developmental drivers – including Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chris Buescher – started out their deal with the organization by racing for the Roulo’s. However, before they can come up with a partnership with Roush Fenway Racing, Lira will need to find just a drop more speed on the race track.
“We’re hoping to work out a development deal soon, but we need to get more top-fives and start winning races before we can start talking about that,” Lira said. “Obviously, equipment is huge for everybody. You see people who move up quick and have good funding behind them and they can run well. You have to make sure that when you move to a new team or a new car that you have good people around you. More than expertise, it is about the people that are around you.”
The journey to the top has been a long one for Brad Keselowski. However, time after time, the Michigan native has defied the odds.
Since he joined Team Penske in 2010, Keselowski has won a Nationwide Series title, a Sprint Cup Series title. Besides the championships, he has won 22 Nationwide Series events along with 11 on the Cup Series side. But ever since that broken ankle he had before Pocono in August of 2011, Keselowski has become more than just your average Sprint Cup Series driver that races for Roger Penske.
Using the Penske name, Keselowski has not only become one of the top drivers in NASCAR’s top-tier division, but his unique personality has created controversy on multiple occasions.
After missing the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup last season, the No. 2 team has a new look. No, it’s not just a new paint scheme. It’s a new level of confidence that has joined the organization after ending 2013 on a high note.
During the Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway, Keselowski showed that Team Penske is capable of contending for a title. Keselowski and his teammate, Joey Logano, led all but 31 laps in the 267 lap event. Kentucky marked the third time this season in which he led 95 or more markers in a race – matching the amount he had recorded entering this year. Now, he is determined to go after his second Sprint Cup Series title.
“I don’t want to win one championship and that be it for my career. I’m not gonna be happy with that, and I want to win another championship but I don’t want it to be five or 10 years from now. I don’t want to be a guy that contends for a championship every three or four years, I want to do it each and every year, and I know that opportunity is here and it is present, and I want to make the most of it. I’m not afraid to communicate that. I think when it comes to goals, when it comes to dreams and visions, you have to share them if you want them to become a reality,” Keselowski said during a post-race press conference on Saturday evening.
With his early season success, Keselowski currently sits fourth in the points standings with a pair of wins. He has all but locked himself inside of the Chase this year, and now is the time where he can prove that he is a force to win the title. As of now, he is on pace to lead more laps than he did in his championship season (735), and he is also on track to have the best statistical season of his career.
“Like I said, I don’t feel like we’re the dominant cars. We were tonight and I feel like we’re good cars with a really good team, but we have to keep pushing because, like I said, the Hendrick cars won three or four of the last five. You know the stat better than I do, but it’s something like that and that’s what it’s gonna take to win the championship. You’re gonna have to get on a streak in those 10 races and that’s where we need to be, so that’s where I want to push,” he said.
Even though they aren’t at the level which the Hendrick Motorsports team has been performing at – Team Penske is awfully close. At the five 1.5-mile tracks 17 races into the year, Penske cars have seven top-10 finishes.